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Iowa GOP should replace straw poll with regional events, Branstad suggests

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he supports a regional system of fundraising forums and events for GOP presidential candidates in 2015 rather than the traditional Ames straw poll in August as a way to raise money, allow Republicans to meet the party hopefuls, and preserve Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

The Republican governor told reporters his foremost goal is to preserve the lead-off position of the Iowa precinct caucuses in the presidential selection process, and to do that, he believe party leaders should retool the approach in a way that welcomes all candidates and gives Republicans in all parts of the state an opportunity to participate.

A.J. Spiker, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, issued a statement Monday regarding the governor’s comments and the future of the Ames straw poll saying “Whether or not to have the Iowa Straw Poll is a matter that will be decided in 2015 by the State Central Committee and the presidential candidates. Any talk prior to then is simply premature.”

During his weekly news conference, Branstad expressed concern that leading GOP presidential hopefuls in the past two election cycles chose not to participate in the August straw poll, which points to an evolving process that likely requires a new approach heading into the 2016 nominating season.

“It used to be an organizational test and then it became a really big money thing, and now I think it’s become less relevant in light of the last couple of elections,” Branstad said, noting that the last two straw poll winners did not go on to finish atop the field in the precinct caucuses.

Instead of having one event with a straw poll that he said has become increasingly unrepresentative and irrelevant, Branstad suggested GOP officials organize a series of regional fundraisers and forums that are more inclusive and events where Iowans can meet and hear the presidential candidates as part of the run-up to the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“I think a lot of people have had some real questions about the way that the straw poll thing has evolved,” the governor told reporters Monday.

“I’m trying to look to the future to say let’s come up with a better system that welcomes all the candidates, that gives people from all parts of the state a chance to participate, and the most important thing is to protect Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses and make sure all of the candidates feel welcome to participate in that process,” he added.

Branstad said he has not discussed the future of the GOP straw poll with Republican Party leaders but he hoped both political parties would continue their close collaboration in maintaining the caucuses’ lead-off status. He also said he remains convinced that the best method for winning the Iowa caucuses is to campaign “the old-fashioned way” by visiting all 99 counties and building a statewide organization.

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